Shadows From the Walls of Death – the book that can (literally) kill you

When people speak of “potentially-deadly books”, they usually refer to the radical or controversial ideas they contain, but in thw case of “Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers”, the potential for lethalness is quite literal. The “lethal” book was published in 1874 by Dr. Robert M. Kedzie, a Union surgeon during the American Civil War and later professor of chemistry at Michigan State Agricultural college (now MSU). Of its 100 or so pages, 86 are “just” samples of…

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Why we owe food regulation to a 19th-Century chemist who poisoned his colleagues

Try to imagine twelve fine young men sat around a fine dinner table with a fine white tablecloth and fine silver settings, with their bow ties rested at their chins as they delicately brought forkfuls of more or less delicious foods to their mouths. Well, although each morsel laced with formaldehyde and benzoate, while borax tablets that polished off the meal. These heroes were the so-called “Poison Squad”: for five years, beginning in 1902, their nightly meals came from a government-run kitchen, where they ingested common (and previously untested) food…

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Do not eat, touch, or inhale the air around the manchineel tree! You could die.

Throughout the coasts of the Caribbean, Central America, the northern edges of South America, but also in south Florida, there can be found a pleasant-looking beachy sort of tree, often laden with small greenish-yellow pretty fruits. You might be tempted to eat the inviting fruit. But no, do not eat the fruit! Or maybe you might want to rest your hand on the trunk, or touch a branch? Absolutely no, do not touch the tree trunk or any branches! But also…do not stand under or even near the tree for…

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The Poison Gardens of Alnwick Castle, England.

We all know that among the features that make England famous in the world there are the green lawns and the perfect beautiful gardens. But there is an exception. The garden of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland is not exactly an idyllic place: the sign at the garden gate reads “These Plants Can Kill”! Behind big black gates, the carefully curated garden contains about 100 popular killers like Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), Strychnos nux-vomica (strychnine), and Conium maculatum (hemlock). Guides explain their deadly properties while keeping ne’er-do-wells and curious children away…

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